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If defibrillators in public places save lives, will having the device in heart patients' homes save even more people?
Presbyterian Heart Group is taking part in an international trial that hopes to answer that question.
"We're trying to look at whether extending their use makes any sense," said Dr. Lawrence Nair, an electrophysiologist with the group.
So far, 43 New Mexicans are enrolled in the study. That means about half of them have been given an automated external defibrillator to keep in their homes, and their families have been trained in how to use them.
The other half don't have the devices and will act as the comparison group to see if there's any difference in survival or disability rates among the groups.
The defibrillator is a device that shocks the heart into working correctly when the mechanism that regulates heartbeats gets out of synch.
Simple-to-use, automated versions of the equipment are in public places, such as airports and health clubs. A study presented at the American Heart Association's annual meeting showed people are twice as likely to survive cardiac arrest if they are in a place where defibrillators are provided and volunteers are trained in their use.
But most heart attacks don't occur in such locations. "About 70 percent of cardiac arrests seem to occur at home," Nair said.
If the study shows that a defibrillator at home saves people's lives, doctors could write a prescription for the equipment and health insurance may cover it, he said. The defibrillators cost about $2,000, he said.
People are eligible for the study if they have had a heart attack in the front wall of the heart but haven't suffered enough damage that they would get an implantable defibrillator, Nair said. Those folks are considered at moderate risk to have a sudden heart stoppage because of a malfunction in the heart's electrical signals.
"Cardiology has been hoping to find an answer, to find the patient at risk of cardiac arrest before it has happened," he said. "Then we can tailor the therapy to the patient who would benefit the most."
The study hopes to enroll 7,000 people at 124 sites. Presbyterian Heart Group still is signing up patients.
If you think you might qualify, call 563-2500.
Copyright 2003 Albuquerque Journal